Choosing the Right Therapist for Suicidal Feelings

Man sitting in dark room

If you are concerned that you or someone you know may commit suicide, there is help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or go to an emergency room for immediate treatment.

The suicide rate in the United States has steadily increased over the past decade. Startlingly, Americans are now more likely to die from suicide than from car crashes. Despite abundant prevention programs, therapists, and mental health professionals, people experiencing suicidal ideation—feelings that might lead to suicide—are ending their lives at an alarming rate that shows no signs of slowing.

Some seek help but get no relief, while others are unconvinced that anyone will be able to help.  Depression and suicidal feelings are treatable, and finding the right therapist can make a huge difference. Here are some things to consider when seeking help for suicidal feelings:

Licensed mental health professionals may treat a wide variety of conditions even if they haven’t received additional, specific training in certain conditions’ treatment. Thus, it’s important to choose a therapist who has ample experience treating depression, and who focuses primarily on depression and suicidal ideation as part of his or her practice. A general-purpose therapist may not have the necessary skills and background to treat depression, an extremely challenging issue. Ask your therapist about his or her experience, and don’t be afraid to go elsewhere if you’re not getting the help you need.

Therapeutic modality
Therapeutic modality is the specific philosophy and associated methods a therapist uses to treat mental health conditions. While most therapists combine elements of a number of modalities, some approaches are much more effective at treating depression than others. Cognitive behavioral therapy is widely used to treat depression. This approach helps to slowly modify and reframe thoughts, and is completely safe. If your depression is caused by trauma, eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing—an approach that helps your brain to reprocess trauma—may also be helpful. Directionless, structure-free therapy is unlikely to be effective, and your therapist should be able to give you specific treatment goals and outline a plan. If your therapist can’t do this, it’s time to try someone more proactive.

Holistic approaches
For some people, exercise can be as effective as medication at treating depression. Your therapist should take a holistic approach and ask about your diet, your schedule, and any major stressors in your life. A good therapist will help you structure your life to minimize stress and maximize the likelihood of recovery. Moreover, good therapists understand that depression sometimes is a natural reaction to external stress such as a death, relationship dissolution, or job loss. If your therapist pathologizes rather than empathizes with the factors contributing to your depression, it’s time to move on.

Most therapists are not doctors and therefore can’t prescribe medication for depression. Nevertheless, it’s important to choose a therapist who shares your approach to medication. If you’re dead-set against it, consult a therapist who will help you work on alternative treatments and won’t push you toward medication. Conversely, if you want to try medication, you may be able to save time and money by working with a therapist who practices in a shared space with a psychiatrist. The therapist can give you a referral, enabling you to meet with your psychiatrist in the same location. When the two work together, you’re much more likely to get positive results—and the right medication for your needs.


  1. Depression treatment. (n.d.). PsychCentral. Retrieved from
  2. Gannon, M. (n.d.). Suicide now kills more Americans than car crashes. Retrieved from
  3. Grohol, J. (n.d.). Depression treatment. Help Guide. Retrieved from

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • abby

    October 5th, 2012 at 11:32 PM

    its not really easy to weigh in all things when choosing a therapist when you are so troubled having a checklist might help and the pointers mentioned here are good enough.another thing to put on that checklist would be the level of comfort you share with the therapist.that becomes a very important issue.

  • Danny

    October 7th, 2012 at 12:34 AM

    I cant stress enough on how important it is to choose and consult the right therapist.I’ve been with a great therapist and another who is not all glory and I can tell you choosing the right therapist can make all the difference.

  • e.brent

    October 7th, 2012 at 10:55 PM

    well first and foremost we should tackle the awareness issue.those that have suicide ideation need to have knowledge that help is available.unless and until they know there really is an outlet and that they have an option they are not likely to look for once that happens we need to back up that claim of “help is available” by putting together better infrastructure and availability in all regions.maybe even go as far as tweaking the minute details to suit a particular group or region.that would be the ideal system that this needs but I would love to see something even close to this.

  • JOEL

    October 8th, 2012 at 4:00 AM

    Never easy to take this decision of choosing the ‘right’ therapist at a time when you have suicidal thoughts running in your mind. I think a little web searching fro reviews or talking to friends will help find a good therapist. One can always decide after the first meeting too. Now if there was some way of having this ready when you want to go to a therapist…hmm, I don’t know but it would be good to have such an option.

  • katie

    October 8th, 2012 at 11:57 PM

    first off its not easy to talk to someone about you having urges to kill yourself. so I think the therapist certainly needs to display empathy and try to put himself in the client’s shoes.I would definitely want such a therapist if I were in that position and someone who understand me and does not judge me or suggest I turn to things that I have been running away from(like religion for example).

  • Nigel

    January 28th, 2013 at 11:18 AM

    just over a year ago I proposed to my long time girlfriend in Paris, we had been together 10 years. and got along great. I had come out of being depressed having lost everything when the financial crisis hit. she said we had a couple of issues to work on first. I suggested we go to a couples counselor once we returned to Santa Fe. in less than 6 session we were no longer the stable happy couple. I was thrown back into a worse depression, and all the therapist could say was, “I need to stop by the ER and pick up some drugs, because I was going to need them”? I was so offended and hurt. not to mention totally devastated over loosing the love of my life. Then, when putting the pieces together, I realized that my girlfriend was already on phycotropic drugs, and that is why she had such an abrupt personality change. then I saw this, and realized that most therapist are helping to perpetuate the drug industry itself. I feel so betrayed by the entire medical community, especially therapists.

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